Life Events

Life events pose a unique challenge because each is a new or infrequent occurrence for which many people have little or no prior experience.

For many, buying a home is the single largest transaction that we will ever make.

Not only is the mortgage likely to draw off a considerable chunk of our paycheck for up to 30 years, but the care and maintenance of a home is equally consuming.

Here is our advice on this topic.
/ Housing / Buying a Home /

Home Inspections

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Before buying a home, engage the services of a qualified home inspector to assess the integrity of the building structure and to test systems such as electrical, water, sewage/septic, heating, and cooling. Have the inspector look for evidence of infestation by destructive insects such as termites or carpenter ants. Also test for potential health hazards such as lead-based paint, molds, asbestos, water impurities, radon, and carbon monoxide. Even if you are buying a newly built home, an independent inspector should examine it for defects in workmanship.

Home inspections commonly cost $250 to $500 to cover a basic checklist, with extra items covered at additional cost. An inspection commonly lasts about 2-3 hours. Join the inspector on it to see firsthand what he (she) finds. A good inspector gives clear, plain-English explanations of technical matters. He (she) should offer useful homeownership tips, such as showing you how to turn off water and power in an emergency.

The end product is a formal, written report that describes the buildingís condition in detail and lists any repairs or improvements that are either suggested or necessary. This report normally is delivered within 24 hours of the inspection, perhaps even on site shortly after the inspection ends. The narrow time window around the closure of many home purchases has professional home inspectors geared for fast service.

At least 29 states regulate home inspectors. See what standards your state imposes. They may include formal courses, an exam, a period of apprenticeship, continuing education, and perhaps also re-testing. There also are several nationwide associations of inspectors (such as the American Society of Home Inspectors, the National Association of Home Inspectors, and the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors). A state license or membership in one of these groups can indicate a minimum level of competence, but no credentials can protect you against a slipshod inspection, or conflicts of interest.

Most referrals for home inspectors are from real estate agents. Be wary that the inspector may understate problems with a house, to facilitate a sale and remain on the agentís recommended list. Check with regulatory agencies in your state (attorney generalís office, consumer protection agency, etc.) and with the local better business bureau to see if complaints or disciplinary actions exist against either the agent or the inspector. Ask friends whether they can recommend good inspectors, especially if based on personal experience.

Almost all lending institutions and some states mandate certain inspections (such as for health hazards) before a real estate transaction can close. This may force you to use a state-certified inspector, even if you would rather rely on the advice and counsel of a trusted builder or contractor who is knowledgeable but not a licensed inspector. Nonetheless, their second and third opinions can be invaluable inputs to your decision making process.

Finally, before buying ask an experienced real estate attorney what recourse you have if an inspector fails to report problems that he (she) should have found and which come to haunt you after purchasing the house. Learn what conditions allow you to demand compensation (from the inspector, the seller, or both) for the costs of rectifying serious undisclosed problems. Understand what conditions might let you nullify your purchase of the house.
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